Most U.S. MBA programs will allow students to defer acceptance (push off starting the program for a year) for U.S. military deployment, illness, or illness of a loved one for whom the candidate is the sole or a major caregiver (you will need proof of the above).
Check with the individual programs, but here are a few specifics:
• Stanford GSB admits students directly from college, but suggests a 1-3 year deferral to gain experience.
• Harvard Business School has a similar policy, but applicants must be admitted through 2+2 program.
• MIT Sloan offers an automatic readmit to candidates they admitted in the prior year, but who could not attend. It’s basically the same as a deferral except the candidate must complete the application again.
Top 20 MBA programs rarely offer deferrals for financial or work related reasons (other than military and the exceptions I stated above). However, it never hurts to ask.
A Cautionary Tale
When I was the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Cornell Johnson (many years ago), I had a Cornell candidate who applied three years in a row due to work-related reasons (his consulting firm just kept giving him projects he didn’t want to turn down).
The first year he sent me a note about the new project and explained how much stronger a candidate he would be if I deferred his admission. I asked him to reapply because we did not defer for work-related reasons (except military deployment). He reapplied, and the second year I admitted him again, but he never sent me a note indicating that he would not be attending the program. He just didn’t show on the first day of class and assumed that was okay. It wasn’t.
He had the nerve to reapply the third year, and I did not admit him despite the strength of his application. His lack of communication when he wanted to defer a second time took a spot away from another candidate. That kind of hubris did not belong at Cornell (and I didn’t mind telling him my reasons when he called to find out why I denied his application…he was stunned).
What Should You Do If You Want to Defer?
• If you haven’t yet been accepted: If you have not yet heard a decision from the school, you should withdraw your application from further review. Explain why you are withdrawing your application, indicate that you will be reapplying next year and that you plan to attend the school if admitted (if true).
• If you’ve already been accepted: If you’ve already been admitted, request the deferral. The worst case scenario is that the school will tell you that they don’t grant deferrals.
By Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, an accomplished Accepted consultant/editor (since 2008) and entrepreneur. Natalie is a former MBA Admissions Dean and Director at Ross, Johnson, and Carey.